Rollo's first appearance with the Rangers is less than auspicious as he got lost somewhere around Victoria Station and is 13 hours late reporting. Darby tests Rollo's instincts by pulling the pin on a grenade and tossing it to him. Rollo reacts by throwing it out the window and throwing himself on top of Darby, then tries to help him up. Of course, the grenade wasn't actually live but the action convinces Darby that Rollo has the right stuff.
Original release date 1958
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Guy Trosper
James Garner as Col. William Darby
Etchika Coureau as Angelina De Lotta
Jack Warden as Msgt. Saul Rosen
Edward Byrnes as Lt. Arnold Dittman
Venetia Stevenson as Peggy McTavish
Torin Thatcher as Sgt. McTavish
Peter Brown as Pvt. Rollo Burns
Joan Elan as Wendy Hollister
Corey Allen as Tony Sutherland
Stuart Whitman as Sgt. Hank Bishop
Murray Hamilton as Sims Delancey
William Wellman, Jr. as Eli Clatworthy
Andrea King as Sheilah Andrews
Adam Williams as Heavy Hall
Frieda Inescort as Lady Hollister
Reginald Owen as Sir Arthur Hollister
Philip Tonge as Prof. John Andrews
Edward Ashley as Lt. Dave Manson
Raymond Bailey as Gen. W.A. Wise
Willis Bouchey as Gen. Turscott
Thomas Browne Henry (uncredited)
David Janssen (uncredited)
H.B. Warner (uncredited)
This pre Lawman Warner Brothers WWII drama tells the more or less true story of Major William Darby who came up with the plan to create an American version of the elite British Commandos, the American Rangers. He also managed to convince the Brigadier General that he should leave the frustration of desk duty to command the Rangers.
The story follows a group of "representative" soldiers through both love and war. Young Peter Brown plays brave young soldier Rollo Burns, a character somewhat similar to the young deputy he would later play in Lawman. Rollo is eager, inexperienced and courageous, as well as sweet and relatively innocent with girls. We wonder if Peter, who himself was anything but innocent and inexperienced, especially when it came to women, got a kick out of playing so many naive young men.
The American soldiers are billeted with local families. Rollo asks directions from the formidable Sgt. McTavish to the place he has been assigned. McTavish seems to know the place well, including the fact that a pretty blonde 19-year-old girl will answer the door. When she does answer, the flirtation begins.
Rollo seems little rattled when she offers to show him his room and lets him know no one else is home. He trips on the stairs twice, but this being 1958, all is innocent. She makes the kind of teasing comment no nineteen year old boy can tolerate...he's probably never been alone in a bedroom with a girl before. They trade a few lines and end up bouncing childishly on the bed. Of course, daddy, who turns out to be the sergeant, comes up the stairs. When McTavish comes in, Rollo hastily tells him that he found the house.
The details of the courtship are not included in the film. Our next scene with Rollo and Peggy has them telling the sergeant they want to get married. Daddy pours a toast which Rollo chokes on, whether from the unaccustomed strength of the liquor or the toast itself which includes a wish for lots of children, is unclear. But marriage is delayed to see if Rollo "makes it through the war" so he bids Peggy goodbye, leaving no future child behind.
Peter's best scenes in the movie occur when Rollo kills his first enemy soldier, an Italian sniper who has taken a position on a bell tower. The man falls into a pile of debris below. Rollo looks on stricken at the man's dying words.
When Rollo falls into a depression, a smart-ass new West Point graduate, Lt. Dittman (Edward Byrnes), gives Rollo a haughty "you should be proud to kill an enemy" and "get back to work" speech. However, the compassionate Darby comes by and, in one of the best moments in this movie, gives Rollo a much more intelligent talk about his duty and the harshness of war. When Rollo thanks Darby for taking the time to talk to him, Darby says he was talking to himself as well.
When the Rangers get to Anzio, where a large percentage of them were killed, Rollo is shot. He tumbles down a drop to a road and is carried to the medics by a buddy.
Rollo bravely tells Darby how proud Sgt. McTavish will be of how many Germans he killed. Then, in the scene that ruined the movie for those of us who were watching Lawman and in love with Peter, Rollo dies.
NiteOwl Review: Of course, we've only noted Peter's part here. Overall the movie spent about half its time on the various adventures with women embarked on by all the characters. This distracted from the tone of the movie and wasn't well enough done to be a welcome distraction. We liked James Garner, of course, and enjoyed Peter's scenes, especially those with Garner. Peter was in a better Warners WWII movie, Merrill's Marauders, which was released after his stint on Lawman. When our video group took a survey of the members as to what was the first movie that made them cry, Darby's Rangers came in second after Gone With the Wind and just ahead of Old Yeller. (Most of the men wouldn't admit they had ever cried in movies so this was mostly a female survey.) Some of us didn't go to another war movie until someone's big brother told us that Peter's character didn't get killed in Merrill's Marauders.
In a poignant moment following Rollo's death, Col. Darby gently closes his shirt.
Official Peter Brown Fan Site